Growing up in the Hyderabad of the ‘90s, most Sunday evenings had an inviolable ritual: A trip to Prime Time (a popular gaming alley, which no longer exists) to ride the dashing cars, dessert at Baker’s Inn next door (chocolate cake for Rs 12; the bakery has shut down since), and if we were lucky — a trip to Walden across the road, to buy an Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie title or at times, fancy stationery.
With its familiar and comforting red-and-white facade, Walden was the cool bookstore that one could brag about having visited, the next day at school. For the serious book lovers, there existed AA Hussain and Gangarams, but Walden was where one might spot celebrities, listen to ‘90s pop songs at Music World (which had a dedicated space inside the store), and — to quote a schoolmate — “just chill”.
For 29 years, Walden was where one would browse books and stumble upon new authors, buy greeting cards and check out the latest in stationery supplies. So when reports emerged earlier this week that the flagship store in Begumpet would be shutting down, Hyderabadis were understandably propelled down a nostalgia-induced trip into Walden’s heyday.
When Shobha and Ram Prasad opened the first Walden store in Begumpet in 1990, it was a trendsetter; multi-purpose stores were, until then, unheard of in Hyderabad. Named after the seminal work by Henry David Thoreau, Walden stocked books, toys, stationery and audio cassettes. “We used to live in Chennai where my husband, being a voracious reader, would often frequent Landmark. When we moved to Hyderabad, we wanted to have a place where bibliophiles could meet and indulge their love for books,” Shobha Prasad says.
When it opened, Walden had several unique experiences to offer: From Ram Prasad’s knowledgeable recommendations to customers, the collection of books, a popcorn counter, and – due to the proximity of the old airport, which was also closed down in 2008 – the possibility of seeing celebrities like Sonali Bendre and Raveena Tandon (who acted in a number of Telugu films in the 1990s), who dropped into the store before getting on a flight back to Mumbai.
Authors like Ruskin Bond, Amish, Robin Sharma and Shakuntala Devi were hosted here for book launches and discussions, and the store was also a favourite with former union minister Ashok Gajapati Raju and Tollywood actor Pawan Kalyan. Walden in the ‘90s was so popular that Anil Kapoor and Sridevi launched Filmfare’s A Century of Stars here.
The store was recommended by the then Tourism Board to visitors to the city, prompting busloads of tourists to flock to the store every morning. And even though Walden added two more branches in newer localities in the past decade, for many, the name remained synonymous with the flagship store in Begumpet.
What the bookstore really gave Hyderabadis, however, was an experience to cherish: from a treasured novel to meeting an author one idolised, everyone has a Walden story. Actress Lakshmi Manchu recalls, “Walden used to have a t-shirt printing machine, where I got a picture of my dad and myself printed; it used to be one of my favourite tees. I wore it for the longest time, but lost it after some years…Four or five years later, when I visited Walden on one of my trips back home from the US, a member of the staff told me they still had the picture and printed another t-shirt for me. My joy knew no bounds!”
For investment advisor Sridhar Sattiraju, Walden’s collection of magazines was even more of a draw than the books themselves. “It was the only place in Hyderabad, which stocked not only an envious collection of books but also some of the best magazines from the US – be it the New Yorker or the Harvard Business Review. It was always a serendipitous experience, walking in and stumbling upon something interesting,” Sattiraju says.
Sattiraju and Lakshmi Manchu both single out the staff at Walden for praise, for being ever-helpful, searching diligently for titles customers requested, and understanding the kinds of books a visitor might enjoy. “Walden triggered my passion for reading. It truly breaks my heart to see this landmark bookstore close,” Lakshmi Manchu says.
The loss of a cherished haunt is also compounded by the fact that as of today, Hyderabad does not offer much in the form of a bookstore which knows its books.
As the memories tumble out on social media, Shobha Prasad admits that it hasn’t been easy to shut the doors on three decades of work. “This is where our children grew up,” she says. “But the traffic, the flyover opposite the store and the heavy discounts online sellers offer made our business model redundant. All our best-sellers, from cassettes to greeting cards, have become obsolete and it’s very tough to survive only on the sales of books.”
Ram Prasad says that the response from Walden customers past and present has been overwhelming, but the decision to close the Begumpet store was inevitable. “The amount of affection we have received is staggering, but running a bookstore in the time of online purchases is very tough,” he rues.
While Hyderabad’s bibliophiles may yearn for the days when a visit to the bookstore meant a family outing and browsing books functioned as both punctuation and pause to a busy life, the Prasads will focus on the two other branches of Walden in the city. “Walden [itself] is not shutting down,” they assert. “We will operate from our other branches and the journey will continue.”
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2019 10:00:04 IST